Dog days for peace process
Dog days for peace process

The first meeting of an Assembly committee established to outline the path to the restoration of power-sharing has broken up in acrimony.

Proceedings of rgw new committee at the Belfast Assembly came to a halt as soon when the main parties failed to agree who would be appointed as committee chairperson.

Sinn Féin chief negotiator Martin McGuinness, who led a delegation which included fellow MPs Michelle Gildernew and Conor Murphy, accused the DUP of not being serious about re-establishing the political institutions.

“This is ridiculous,” the Mid Ulster MP said. “The DUP won’t make a serious effort to engage in the Preparation for Government Committee.

“[British Direct Ruler] Peter Hain needs to make it clear that if the DUP are unwilling to engage then he is prepared to call time on the Assembly.” Republicans viewed the move as a predictable attempt by the DUP to undermine peace efforts.

Martin McGuinnes said the DUP had sent low-ranking members to the committee with the “sole objective” of preventing progress. A range of proposals for nominating a chair on a shared or rotational basis were all opposed by the DUP, he added.

Sinn Féin would accept the Rev William McCrea, nominated by the DUP, as a chairman but only on a shared or rational basis, Mr McGuinness said, but that party was unwilling to agree.

The DUP also nominated Alliance member and Assembly Speaker Eileen Bell but she had already ruled herself out.

The DUP was also criticised for already seeking a postponement of the deadline for reaching agreement, which they described as “injury time”.

The party is claiming there should be a two-week extension of the November 24th deadline set by London and Dublin for achieving power sharing at Stormont because no business had been scheduled for the Assembly over the past two weeks.

With British Prime Minister Tony Blair and 26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern due to travel to Belfast at the end of the month for official negotiations, hopes for an early breakthrough are low.

The SDLP leader also criticised Mr Hain’s approach towards the shadow assembly.

SDLP leader Mark Durkan said the DUP was in the business of “carry on vetoing. They set about making sure that this committee could not even do its preliminary business,” he said.

“The only people the Secretary of State should be dictated by is the general public and the electorate who want the institutions restored,” he said. “It’s about time the Secretary of State stopped letting parties pull his strings.”

Hain was forced into an embarrassing U-turn at the weekend when he had to change his mind and allow an assembly debate to be held this week.

It had been stated there would be no debates this week as there was no specific business committee recommendation.

However, following a protest by Ian Paisley, who threatened not to make nominations to the new committee, a gathering in Stormont was hastily arranged.

Mr Hain said tonight the committee would meet again tomorrow [Tuesday] afternoon after an Assembly debate on industrial rates.

Refusing the DUP call for a deadline extension, he insisted the November 24th date stood and said he would review progress by the committee before deciding on future business for the Assembly.

Sinn Féin is not taking part in the debates in the assembly chamber, having dismissed it as a talking shop.


Pat McCarthy, a 53-year-old father of three, has become Belfast’s 114th lord mayor and only the fourth nationalist to wear the chain of office.

The SDLP MAN saw off the challenge of Sinn Féin’s Caral Ni Chuilin to be elected by 37 votes to 14.

Mr McCarthy was locked up in 1971 for being an alleged member of the Official IRA.

He was interned without trial for 11 months in the Crumlin Road jail in Belfast and in Long Kesh prison.

The Democratic Unionist Party’s Ruth Patterson was elected to serve as his deputy.

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